Apostolic nuncio joins Little Sisters to celebrate 150 years of their witness to God's love in America
Jun 3, 2019
The Little Sisters of the Poor and the residents of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington gathered with guests on June 1 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Little Sisters to the United States.
The festivities began with a Mass of Thanksgiving in the chapel in the Jeanne Jugan Residence, celebrated by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States who is originally from the same village in France where St. Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1839. She opened her home to an elderly, blind, paralyzed woman, and from that day on, she dedicated her life to caring for the elderly poor, which Little Sisters around the world still do today.
“Hailing from that place where St. Jeanne Jugan began her marvelous work, I have a special regard for the Little Sisters,” said Archbishop Pierre.
In his homily, Archbishop Pierre asked, “What does one wear for celebrations like these?”
For a priest or even for the Little Sisters, it is easy, he joked, but for many people, special occasions such as First Communions, weddings, graduations, or Baptisms, special clothes are required. But in the gospel for that day, the Feast of the Ascension, Jesus told His disciples they will be “clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, he said, “is not so much a journey, but an action of God’s power.”
“God brings Jesus to the presence of divine intimacy,” he said. “…We draw close to Heaven to the extent we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with Him.”
The Ascension of Jesus did not mark the beginning of His absence from the world, said Archbishop Pierre, but rather marked the beginning of a new type of presence, in the sacraments of the Church, in the hearts of believers, and in the Holy Spirit, which is what Jesus referred to when He said they would be “clothed with power from on high.”
One hundred and fifty years ago, filled with the Holy Spirit, seven Little Sisters of the Poor boarded a boat and sailed across the ocean to come to the United States, “to find the elderly poor and clothe them in dignity,” recalled Archbishop Pierre.
“The Little Sisters glorified God in their littleness, in their poverty, in their hiddenness, in their care for the elderly poor,” he said.
While society does not always value those who are no longer as productive or efficient as they once were, the Little Sisters witness to the power of God’s love by caring for the elderly poor, said Archbishop Pierre.
“Jesus has ascended, but the mission of making God’s love known remains for His disciples and for us,” he said.
The Little Sisters invited various religious communities in the Archdiocese of Washington to join them for their celebration, many of which have had a long connection to their order. The organist for the Mass was a Paulist, and the founder of that order was the Little Sisters’ first benefactor.
“It is nice to see how 150 years later, the same religious communities are flourishing,” said Sister Constance Veit, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor who does communications work for their order.
After the Mass, Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, the mother provincial for the Baltimore Province of the Little Sisters of the Poor, recalled how she looked around during the liturgy and thought to herself about how much God has blessed them.
“It is a privilege to celebrate 150 years of serving the elderly and to see how the mission has persevered; how God has supported us,” she said, adding that she believes the sisters have a beautiful vocation.
She often sees residents come to one of their residences after having sat at home alone for a while, and “are surrounded by attention and love,” which results in them having “a new lease on life,” doing things like taking up painting, making new friends, or coming back to the faith.
“It has an impact on them and they have an impact on us,” said Mother Loraine Marie Clare, adding that the sisters “are really praying that young women might see how God is calling them to serve others” and “that they are open to the Spirit, and if He is calling them that they have the grace to say ‘yes’” to that vocation.
The residents gathered together for a celebratory dinner after the Mass, joined by some young adult volunteers, such as Kateri and Lauretta Brown, who began volunteering when they were young girls, and have now started to return on their own as young professionals.
“The residents have really interesting stories,” said Kateri Brown. “We first came as a family to get involved in the community, and then I realized, ‘I can learn so much from the residents.’”
Her sister, Lauretta Brown, agreed, saying, “It is really great to talk with the residents,” even though it can sometimes be difficult if they have medical issues that make it difficult to communicate.
“It is really nice when you’ve made a connection, you’ve reached someone and they’ve reached you,” she said.
Noting that Pope Francis has called for more intergenerational dialogue, Sister Constance said she is “excited to be able to live that out,” especially as the Little Sisters are planning to hold more regular volunteer gatherings for young adults.
“It is satisfying and gratifying that this is what our life is all about, and [the young adults] get it,” she said.
As he prepared to eat, Larry Donato, a resident of the Jeanne Jugan Residence, said the sisters exercised a “great act of generosity” when they took him in, because “when the sisters took me in, I was going to be homeless the next month.”
Debbie Straight, who was sitting with him, said she appreciates all of the activities available to the residents, such as going out to eat, playing cards, or doing arts and crafts.
Mary O’Donnell, who has lived at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for 13 years, said she loves living with the sisters, whom she described as very caring and willing to do anything to help, from bending down and cleaning up a drink that someone spills to helping them eat or get dressed.
“I love being here,” she said. “I think it is my last retreat before I have a chance to go to Heaven.”
As the residents concluded their meal, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty donated champagne to cap off their celebration, and Montse Alvarado, the organization’s executive director, led them in a toast “to the wonderful sisters and their beautiful ministry and charism that brings us all together” and “to know we accompany each other until we get to Heaven.”
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